Flipkart First, Part Deux: The anti-Amazon alliance

Remember Flipkart’s golden days? The original golden days, that is. The times when it had the Midas touch? (Well, at least it thought it did).

It was a few years ago. Around 2012-2015, if you think about it. Everything it did was cheered on.

Thinking of the products

In February 2012, it launched Flyte, an iTunes competitor for music. In July that year, it launched its own private label for electronics and accessories, DigiFlip. By November, Flyte was selling ebooks too. In 2013, it launched a mobile wallet called PayZippy. The next year, in June 2014, it launched Flipkart First, its subscription service, a good two years before Amazon would launch Prime.

Though its pace of launches slowed down by 2015, it still launched Nearby, a hyperlocal grocery delivery service.

Do you know what’s common about all of these services? They’re all dead today.

Music was pulled out of the app in 2013. There were just not enough customers willing to pay to download music. There were Gaana and Saavn, who streamed music for free. And also, there was the radio. Ebooks didn’t work as Indian customers still preferred physical books. The mobile wallet was pulled out of the market. The electronics private label was closed down after four years, in 2016. The grocery service was killed in just six months.

But most importantly, Flipkart shut down its subscription service: Flipkart First.

But now, Flipkart First is returning.

Because, well, things are different for Flipkart today. The e-commerce giant has a near-infinite source of money in the shape of about $4 billion sitting in the bank plus deep-pocketed and long-haul investors like Tencent and SoftBank.

And it has a new plan in motion. According to two people, the company has promised its Board that it will relaunch its subscription plan either in December or early January. It is tentatively priced at Rs 999 (The Ken couldn’t independently verify this). The last time around, Flipkart could only sweeten its subscription plan with Flyte, its in-house music and book service. But this time around, it has a few partnerships. An anti-Amazon alliance, if you will.

  • MakeMyTrip, online travel agent
  • Gaana, music streaming site
  • Hotstar, one of India’s biggest OTT platforms

Apart from these, Flipkart is in conversation with food delivery service Swiggy, but that integration is still a few months away. It has also approached ride-hailing service Ola and online ticketing site BookMyShow, but there has been no movement yet.

Secure access to Makemytrip’s DoubleBlack

According to sources, a Flipkart First customer will get access to Makemytrip’s DoubleBlack—a membership scheme that gives free cancellation on domestic flights and hotels. Plus, there’s a potential 50% discount on premium, ad-free memberships of Gaana and Hotstar. Beyond these bells and whistles, Flipkart will do next day deliveries for orders from their own platform plus Myntra and Jabong. Most of the details are still being ironed out.

Ken reached out to Flipkart, Hotstar, and Gaana and the companies refused to comment on the story. A detailed questionnaire sent to MakeMyTrip did not elicit a response.

The return to subscription for Flipkart is based on need. In the race to be the top e-commerce company in India, Flipkart and Amazon have been battling for the past few years. It has a big mark to achieve. The e-commerce India market is set to rise to $200 billion by 2026.

But before fast-forwarding, let’s rewind.

The first iteration
In June 2014, Flipkart announced its subscription plan. But it aborted that idea within a year. Why did Flipkart First fail in its first iteration?

The primary reason: Delivery.

In 2014, Flipkart had just switched to a marketplace model. This means that Flipkart, which primarily sold on its own up until 2014, through its own in-house sellers, branched out and let others sell on its website. And when orders came in from buyers across the country, the sellers couldn’t dispatch the products on time. This angered customers and they started to drop out.